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Higher Education: A Tale of Two Payslips

This report poses the provocative question: “Do we want our future economists, sociologists and historians to be those with the brightest minds and the best ideas or those whose parents have the biggest wallets?” The answer is surely the former rather than the latter, but this study makes it clear that postgraduate higher education in England is currently moving in a direction which will make it harder and harder for bright students from poor backgrounds to gain access to the academic profession.

The report argues that those who cannot rely on their parents to fund a postgraduate education for them are increasingly being squeezed out by government funding cuts, or forced into taking out expensive Professional and Career Development Loans which charge a higher rate of interest than many forms of commercial borrowing.

Even if they do manage to afford postgraduate study, changes in staffing arrangements at universities mean that nearly half of all teaching-only staff are now employed using zero-hours contracts. This report makes a convincing argument that it is becoming ever more difficult for young academics to find stable, fairly-rewarded academic posts at England’s universities, while at the same time pay and benefits for senior academics and Vice-Chancellors has continued to rocket upwards since the recession. Finally, thanks to a £13 billion deficit in the Universities Superannuation Scheme – the main pension scheme for university employees – today’s younger academics can expect to retire up to 30% worse-off than their older colleagues because of changes to contributions and benefits.

Overall, this report argues that today’s young people face an enormous range of disincentives when it comes to entering the academic profession, a development which should be enormously concerning to anyone who cares about the quality of intellectual life in Britain.